Browser or App? The Tide is Turning.

December 2nd, 2010 18 Comments

Not terribly surprising I suppose, but Parks Associates published research this week that found consumers under 35 prefer apps over browsers for mobile content.

Consumers Under 35 Ditching Browser for Apps, Study Shows

I did find it surprising that the neutral answer was only around 50%, even in the older demographic ranges. I guess I thought the apps vs. browser question to be a bit erudite for many respondents, especially given the problems that people have defining a browser.

The RWW post mentions a conflicting report from Taptu that found cross-platform mobile web sites as dominating the future of the mobile web.

I don’t see this as conflicting. Taptu polled producers, not consumers. Producers want cross-platform because it’s cheaper to build and maintain. Consumers want convenience. The assumption that cross-platform mobile cannot behave as apps do is false as well.

So, this is all in line with what I’d expect, i.e. producers will find the cheapest way to provide consumers with what they want.

It’s a shame that the browser is being marginalized though.

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18 Responses to “Browser or App? The Tide is Turning.”

  1. uvox Says:

    Apps be the New Web: (are we ready to start the Web 4.0 stuff yet, btw?).What the PA research says doesn’t surprise me given that apps are more part of the loyalty to the device (iPhone, Android) than a browser would be: It’s all wrapped up in user experience. I agree that some users might even had a hard time telling when they’re in a native app and when they’re in a browser (we have a related problem in enterprise software where some users cannot even tell which application they’re using). It’s all about value to the user – they don’t care.I attended one of Jakob Nielsen’s training seminars on mobile in London last year. It was very browser-based. Sure it’s easier from a production viewpoint, but from a usability perspective? Doubted it even then.Perhaps those older users like browsers cos they’re reading online content more? Interesting though.

  2. tacanderson Says:

    Asking most consumers if they prefer apps or Web browsers is like asking most consumers which browser or which Internet provider they prefer.

    They’re familiar with apps because it spans Web content and things like games and other functionality that you can’t really do on a mobile Web browser (or at least not done as well). I wonder how many users would know the difference between an app and an “app” that was actually lust a link to a browser based app like Google does?

  3. Joonas Says:

    Gotta mention the article Rich tweeted earlier today: “Native apps are always better than Web apps; Psst, the new way has an escape chute” by Dion Almaer (

    Maybe it’s just a transitional period we are going through – once HTML5/JS/CSS3 combo gets into full swing, is there much that can’t be achieved with a web app running in mobile browser? “The iPhone app is the Flash homepage of 2010″, claims another article referenced at the end of Dion’s rant.

  4. John E. Bredehoft (Empoprises) Says:

    One would think that producers would have a preference for apps because there’s more of a chance that the consumer will remain locked in to the producer’s content, rather than surfing to some other producer’s content. But the bottom line rules…

  5. Jake Says:

    Absolutely. We can iterate the version if you like :)

    Good point about apps creating lock-in with the device, think I covered that in the past. The bummer part is even on the same platform (e.g. iPhone, iPad), the form factor difference forces the user to buy even more apps.

    The browser works fine for app-like experiences, but I’ve found even then that you expect native controls.

    There wasn’t enough demographic information, aside from age, to make a guess on the older users. I tend to think there is mistrust in apps though, especially free ones.

  6. Jake Says:

    The semantics of it all are highly confusing, good point. That probably skewed the data. Although Apple is working hard to create a meaningful differentiation.

    In fact, the App Store push deemphasizes the browser enough to make it invisible to many, especially Windows users accustomed to the happy little e.

  7. Jake Says:

    Yeah, but this isn’t a development question, just like the Android != Droid problem. There’s really no point attempting to explain the difference. It’s all about packaging.

    I agree that open web trumps SDK, but we (developers) have to account for the apps bias.

  8. Jake Says:

    Yeah, sure. It’s early enough that producers are waffling still, unconvinced. It’s not really lock-in though, since smartphone users happily install dozens of apps, if only to do small units of work, my good old theory.

  9. oraclebase Says:

    Consistency of experience is the most important thing for me. I prefer web apps because I get the same experience wherever I am. Currently I use Linux at home, MacBook when teaching, iPad at conferences and Windows at my brothers house. In all cases I have the same user experience because the web apps perform the same on every bit of kit. There are some apps on iPad that are nice, but I dislike having to use two different interfaces for a single job so I avoid a lot of them.



  10. Joonas Says:

    Yeah my point exactly (although reading my comment now it isn’t that obvious): the end user doesn’t care if it’s a native app or a web app just as long as it works nice so in that sense the survey is pointless.

  11. John Sim Says:

    I had a few colleagues who worked for Taptu.. I feel that report from Taptu is going to be more biased as they develop mobile browser based solutions..

    For those geeky runescape players.. Taptu’s office is just underneath Jagex the developers of Runescape and where I worked many years ago… :)

  12. Joonas Says:

    +1 this, I’m having problems with Twitter as I’m using Nambu home on Mac, Tweetdeck at the office on Windows, the Twitter app (or Tweetdeck app) on iPod touch and nearly anywhere (don’t ask why). Always confused with the functionality of the UI in front of me at first.

  13. Jake Says:

    Exactly. The survey does pitch the results as native vs. browser, which is a development construct. My takeway was the same as yours, i.e. people like convenience and don’t care about platforms or delivery.

  14. Jake Says:

    Not entirely true, since some web apps sniff your user agent to optimize the version they show you, but I see your point. Actually, you’d probably be annoyed if they changed for a different user agent.

  15. Jake Says:

    Good point, since has been redesigned, and they have official clients which are very nice on the major mobile platforms, I’ve been staying away from specialized clients. The one caveat is when I need a whizzy feature, but that doesn’t happen often.

    Not a good sign for the Twitter ecosystem.

  16. Jake Says:

    I know a guy who worked for Taptu as well, and I was a bit surprised to see their name on that research. They have a rapidly shifting business model ;)

  17. rock Says:

    its not an “apps” bias, its a utility bias. measure the utility and Apps win. when utility of browser-based exceeds apps, the scale will tilt — for many reasons but not least of which producers (cost) and consumers (benefit) will both move toward the same side.

  18. Jake Says:

    Absolutely right about utility. I’ve been preaching single serving apps here since the App Store debuted. If you’re right about tilt, the browser may never recover bc its is too broad for most users, i.e. I just want to call a cab, not search for a cab company.

    I am concerned that consumers will vote with their downloads and prevent good cross-platform apps built on HTML5/CSS3 from ever gaining a foothold.

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